By now it should be clear to everyone: the music licensing deals signed by social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram cover user-generated content – but those users do NOT include brands. If they want to use commercial music in their social content or ads, it’s a sync and they need to license it themselves.
The clarity comes from a series of prominent lawsuits filed by major labels, kicking off with Sony Music’s lawsuit against fitness brand Gymshark in 2021, and then lawsuits against drinks brand Bang Energy by Universal Music Group and Sony Music.
In the UMG case, the brand was ruled liable for copyright infringement in its own TikTok videos, but a judge knocked back UMG’s claims over music used in videos posted by influencers who it had paid to promote its products. Now there is a similar development in Sony Music’s lawsuit against the company.
Sony has been granted partial summary judgement against Bang Energy over the brand’s own videos, with the ruling making it clear that it had not licensed the music from the major label, nor was its use covered by the licences signed between Sony and the social platforms.
However, once again the influencers side is more nuanced, with a question around whether the brand had full knowledge of (and the ability to control) the music used by those influencers in their clips. Summary judgement denied in this case, so rather than throwing out the label’s claims, the ruling means those claims would need to be argued in court.
As we wrote before when covering UMG’s lawsuit, behind the legal arguments there’s an opportunity for the music industry. Music is as intrinsic to brands’ social media content as it is to what regular users are posting on those services (and, indeed, as intrinsic to the branded content as it is to TV and film advertising).
The sheer scale of TikTok, Instagram and other big social platforms could be an exciting new frontier for sync licensing. These early legal battles may help to set some of the parameters for that business, depending how things play out.